Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pro Brew

It now seems confirmed that I will be given the absolutely fantastic opportunity to go and brew a small commercial batch of beer with a New Zealand craft brewer later in the year. Needless to say I’m looking forward to it!
My own brew house has been relatively dormant recently but I think its time to start fine tuning a recipe. I’m planning to do an E.S.B. with a big pronounced New Zealand grown Styrian Golding and NZ grown Golding character, providing those hops are available to me of course.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beer to the Motherland

A bottle of my Merchant sitting in the Coach and Horses Sheffield, good stuff!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Perhaps I’m just lucky that I have been able to spend the majority of my working life dealing with products I have a passion for. Perhaps I expect way too much, maybe I’m out of step with the world. But I would expect that if you are earning your living trying to sell a product that you should have a decent understanding of the product and perhaps a touch of enthusiasm for it. The number of reps who seem to have neither sometimes astounds me. This isn’t just the case in the liquor industry I used to come across it at times in the cheese world also.
With this year being billed as the ‘summer of cider’ there have been a lot of reps trying to get their wares on our shelves. Many of them, though not all, obviously had a rather limited knowledge of the product. Perhaps the prize goes to the rep who after serving me a sample of their rather sweet chilled cider over ice (somewhat akin to showing an artwork to an art buyer by driving them past the gallery window in a bus!) answered my question as to whether they were using cider varieties by saying “oh no, we don’t use rotten apples just nice ripe ones from the tree”. I was being a touch disingenuous as I already knew the answer and was just testing but the point is they should have known what I was talking about!
I suspect there are a number of beer reps out there who couldn’t name all the fundamental ingredients in a bottle of beer. How can we expect the punter’s understanding to improve if the person in charge of marketing a product is so limited? A bit of education goes a long way.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thornbridge in NZ

On Thursday I attended a tasting put on by Colin Mallon the landlord of the Malthouse and Kelly Ryan the Kiwi brewer at Thornbridge. Kelly was back in NZ for a wedding and was kind enough to pack a few bottles of some very special beers in his suit case so that we could try them. The beers were outstanding and it is no surprise that Thornbridge are currently seen as one of the rising stars of English brewing. Unlike some of the American imports we are getting at the moment and some of the local craft beers that are around at the moment the majority of the Thornbridge beers had a fantastic feel for balance. Even when they are pushing boundaries and brewing “extreme” they manage to craft beautifully balanced drinkable and supremely enjoyable beers.
The only thing left now is for us to find a way of getting these beers imported into New Zealand. As a country we drink a lot of Family Brewer brewed brown bitter. That's all well and good and I enjoy a lot of them myself but I would happily see a few of them fall off the import lists if we could replace them with a beer or two from Thornbridge.
Before Kelly leaves he will be brewing a Stout with Luke Nicolas which will mark the second Epic Thornbridge collaboration. I suspect we will get to drink something fabulous.

As a bit of a reversal of the name of my blog Kelly will be taking a bottle of Merchant of the Devil back to the UK with him to share with ex New Zealand resident, former SOBA Homebrew Champion and current Thornbridge brewer James Kemp.

We tasted:

Pours a lovely light gold. Aroma features complex blend grapefruit, floral notes, and biscuity malt. In the mouth the beer is seriously well balanced with wonderful citrussy hops layered on some fantastic rich pale malt and a solid bitter finish.

A big Munich malt character dominates the nose with some hints of grassy floral hop. In the mouth the beer is malt accented with a big caramel malt character and some drying green hop character.

A beer that traces its ancestry back to New Zealand in more ways than one. Aroma features a huge vibrant citrus hop character with some rich dark chocolate and espresso notes sitting in behind. In the mouth the beer is rich and chocolaty with a big pronounced resinous orange character and a big and strangely pleasing musty orange note (Sorachi hops I’m told) and a long dry Jaffa finish.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beer since I tried it. Undoubtedly the best honey beer I have ever had. A massive rich full complex aroma of dark chocolate, espresso, spicy deep heat, resinous rose petal notes, warm nutty chestnut, a touch of Christmas spice and toffee malt. In the mouth the beer rich with the perfect balance of chocolate roast malt, nutty flavours, chestnut but also hazelnut and almond, floral esters and a rich solid malt backbone. I wish I had a couple of cases of this in the cellar!

Alliance Madiera
A wonderful seriously complex blend of oaky vanilla, smooth rich caramel, vinous fortified notes and warm fruity esters rejoice in the aroma. In the mouth the beer is rich but incredibly smooth for the strength, oak, vanilla, a tangy fortified wine note and a smooth long finish.

Alliance PX
Rich caramel malt, a hint of spicy bubblegum, warm fruit, and a slight hot note feature in the aroma. In the mouth sweet malt, fortified fruit flavours and a long warm finish all feature. Less oaky than the Madeira cask version and note as well balanced. Still a fantastic beer and a privilege to have tried it.

St Petersburg Speyside
A big bright whiskey dominated aroma with metallic hints, some light fruit and a touch of roast grain. In the mouth the whiskey dominates with some nice fruity esters. All in all a very interesting beer but lacking in malt character. Ageing has had its way.

St Petersburg Highland
A prominent whiskey aroma with some lovely dark fruits, figs, and a hint of prune. In the mouth the beer has a rum like note with some raisin notes and a rounded warming finish. Like the other barrel aged St Petersburgs' this one has just fallen away with the whiskey winning.

St Petersburg Islay
Really off the hook. Massive phenolic iodine Islay malt aroma. Very little else is apparent, with perhaps the slightest memory of roasted dark chocolate just before a warm whiskey dominated finish. Really interesting beer to taste but really the barrel is far mightier than the brewer after the years in the bottle.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pinot Noir 2010

This week Wellington has played host to wine writers, dealers and makers from around the world who have all come to attend the Pinot Noir conference on Queen’s Warf. As an after event on Wednesday I ran craft beer tasting with Ager Sectus Wines. The idea was to use the craft beer tasting as a hook to draw in some of the people attending the conference and the wine company hoped they would then try the wines. For me it offered a fantastic opportunity to expose some the best New Zealand craft brewing has to offer to some key players in the wine world.
Guests included TV’s Oz Clarke and the man in charge of promoting New Zealand Wine to the UK David Cox. I had thought I might experience a level of snobbery towards beer that undoubtedly exists in some wine circles but I didn’t. Everyone who attended seemed genuinely interested and many were keen to talk to me about the beers, and taste their way through the range. Oz Clarke was an interesting and good natured chap. I was impressed with his knowledge of the New Zealand craft beer scene and I took the opportunity to tell him that I enjoyed ‘Oz and James Drink to Britain’ but that I thought the scene with Steve Wellington in the cellars at Burton was somewhat ungracious. He blamed it on James May!
The beers I chose to represent New Zealand craft brewing were: Epic Pale Ale, Emersons Pilsner, Croucher Hef, Three Boys Wheat, Golden and Wild Plum, Mussel Inn Captain Cooker, Renaissance Discovery, Renaissance Stonecutter and 8 Wired Hopwired IPA.

The New Look

I decided it was time to update the blog and change the emphasis somewhat. It undoubtedly needed a face list and having stalled on the updates in recent times I thought it was time I started writing more about my experiences as a beer retailer. I am very impressed with Zak Avery’s blog and the insight it gives into the running of a specialist beer shop, and Jeff’s blog on being a publican was gold before he packed it in. I will still do the odd blog on my own brewing and on any fantastic beer I come across. Onward to the new angle !